Dollar for dollar there is no greater garden gold than garlic. It is the ultimate cash crop (organic garlic costs about $38 per kilo) and with the right preparation is about as easy as anything you’ll grow in your garden. One clove planted now should, by next January, have become a fistful of between six and twenty juicy, fat, pungent cloves with which you can kick start an array of culinary triumphs. Garlic grown in cooler areas is said to be more productive and have better flavour.
When garlic is cut, crushed or chewed an amino acid Alliin combines with an enzyme called alliinase to start a chemical reaction that forms Allicin. Allicin is garlic’s proverbial ‘magic bullet’ which is said to have strong antibiotic properties. Studies have shown that the vapours alone from crushed garlic have killed bacteria placed 8 inches away from the garlic itself.
Companions Carrot, cabbage, lettuce, beetroot, strawberry, silverbeet
Quantity 10 plants per person.
Kakanui heirloom variety, reliable grower and good flavour.
Takahue Red heritage variety, great for cooking with fat red-skinned cloves.
New Zealand Purple heritage variety with easy to peel purple-skinned cloves. Very flavoursome. Grows well in warmer areas.
Elephant a huge growing variety that is actually more leek than garlic. Nevertheless it produces large bulbs that are great for roasting. You really feel like you have achieved something when you pull up a bunch of this! Not so good as a cooking ingredient.
Plant May to August. Harvest December to February.
There are two main groups of garlic – ‘softneck’ which store well with crowded small cloves and ‘hardneck’ that have fewer, more uniform cloves that peel easily but don’t store well for long periods.
Garlic likes to grow in the sun so move your lounger and dig a bed if you haven’t already got one in the right spot right now. Alternatively you can grow it in containers – like pots or buckets - with drainage holes in the bottom.
Garlic grows best in soil that your hand might feel comfortable pushing its way through – loose, deep and without any lumps or a soggy bottom. It likes good drainage and that’s why people always go on about planting it in ‘raised beds’ because excess water runs away from the soil more quickly.
Ideally you have pre-composted the planting area and it is now full of well-rotted manure, kitchen compost, leaf mould etc. and well dug over. Should be like a crumble mix before it goes into the oven. Soils benefit from a dose of lime several weeks before planting to help make nutrients available to plants. If you are going for the container option then use a ‘free draining’ compost with perhaps a spade-full of grit mixed into it. Planting depths and distances are the same as in bed planting.
Buy NZ grown organic or seed garlic. The puny white stuff in the supermarkets is generally from overseas and has been treated to stop it from sprouting. Head to your local health food shop, farmers market or garden centre and choose cloves that are tight, fat and fit - like a personal trainer’s biceps – and avoid anything that is soft or spongy. Always pick the best from your bunches as this will grow the greatest garlic.
Once you have separated your bulbs by prizing the cloves apart from their central base and anchoring stem lay your cloves about a finger length apart if they are small or a finger and a half apart if they are big. Do this in a line to make a row, then space your rows at least a hand’s length apart.
I like to place all my cloves on top of the bed just so that I can do a final check on spacing before I push them beneath the surface. Using a trowel, butter knife, piece of kindling or something else thin and handy make a small hole about twice the height of the clove itself and pop in your clove so that it sits comfortably fat end down with pointy end up. Do the whole row before back-tracking and softly closing the soil over your treasure trove.
What is also fairly handy is that you can plant garlic in buckets or containers that are bucket-sized or bigger. Make sure there are holes in the bottom for drainage and fill with a good quality potting mix. Plant your garlic as directed above and be sure to monitor watering closely as soil in buckets and pots dries out much quicker than in beds.
Within a few weeks you should see little green serpent’s tongues rising up through the soil. When it looks like all are up and at it spread a layer of mulch (about a thumb’s depth) across the planted areas to help keep moisture in, maintain a constant temperature and prevent weeds that might otherwise turn up and start pilfering the soil’s store of nutrients from your garlic.
You shouldn’t have to do any watering during winter but come spring you might have to during dry periods. Ideally you should use about a watering can full for every 30 green shoots. Remember, the water has to soak about the length of your middle finger down into the soil to be of use to the bulbs below. Do this every other day when its dry. Garlic is fairly greedy and needs to be well-fed between September and November – so a diluted dose of worm-juice or liquid manure every couple of weeks will surely be welcome.
Aphids can be a problem. As soon as you notice an infestation treat with Neem oil or Tomato leaf spray. The garlic component in Garlic oil spray doesn’t work when used on garlic plants but the washing up liquid in it should still kill aphids.
Often around October/November the shoots - which are looking pretty leek-like by now - will push up a flower stem looking a bit like a green gnome hat. This can freak you out when it first happens but just break them off as they appear and chuck them in a salad, a soup or the compost bin and keep an eye out over the following few weeks till it looks like all that are going to flower, have flowered.
Stop feeding and watering around early November so that the bulbs can get on with swelling and drawing the energy in those healthy green leaves back down below ground. This will in turn cause the tips of the leaves to begin to yellow and then turn brown.
Sometime around late December to mid Jan on a sunny day hopefully you’ll find yourself pulling up your garlic to reveal fat, knuckly fists of fab and feisty garlic. Use some straight away and spread your surplus on the soil or hang it up somewhere dry – probably not the airing cupboard, unless you are keen on onion-scented underwear – and more preferably the greenhouse, garage or garden shed where air can circulate. After a couple of weeks you can trim off the wilted and dried leaves and then plait them or thread them onto a piece of wire to be hung until needed.